The beach under the plaster

When the temperatures rise above 34 degrees in Paris and you need to cool off, you have to swipe your credit card if you want something a little nicer: Mademoiselle Lili went bathing in Piscine Molitor.

The little black dress from Coco Chanel, Dior’s New Look – Paris is the birthplace of more fashion trends than any other city. And this includes the bikini. Although ancient athletes were familiar with the figure-hugging two-piece outfit, the modern swimwear wasn’t invented on the Pacific island of Bikini Atoll, but in the middle of Paris: In 1946, Louis Réard presented the world’s first bikini at Piscine Molitor, modelled by showgirl Micheline Bernadini. Subsequently, he had the name patented. The famous art deco-style outdoor swimming pool was inaugurated in 1929 by “Tarzan” Johnny Weissmüller.

For decades, it was a Parisian institution, similar to the Wannsee bathing beach in Berlin. Generations of Parisians learned to swim here, until it was drained. For 25 years, the listed jewel lay rotting until it opened again two years ago after extensive reconstruction: as a five-star luxury hotel with spa and fitness club. Only club members (3300 euros annual membership) and hotel guests (rooms from 330 euros) would be allowed to bathe in this mythical pool. This sparked a heated debate about the new class society and the gradual erosion of the French values of “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Ultimately, the luxury hotel dedicated itself to fraternity: on three half-days a week, schools are allowed to use the pool free-of-charge for swimming lessons. And outsiders are allowed inside if they book in advance.

For the record price of 195 euros, from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, you can swim your laps and relax on the sun loungers, as well as enjoy a 1-hour spa treatment. The cheaper version: 55 euros for a drink and an hour in the pool. Whoever thinks you have to be totally crazy to spend so much money on a bit of refreshment has never visited one of Paris’s public swimming baths – an unhygienic, overfilled and noisy place, where they force you to wear swim caps like in the 60s, and men are obligated to wear old-fashioned bathing shoes like in the 50s. Shorts are banned.

So it seems better to unsportily reject this egalitarian thinking and experience aesthetic and fashionable freedom instead: to swim your laps in peace in the well-kept art deco atmosphere of the 50-metre pool, and in between relax at the poolside on a comfortable lounger lined with a soft and fluffy towel, whilst admiring the decorative visitors who prance in front of the royal blue doors of the historic changing rooms like glossy calendar pin-ups. Admittedly a rather elite swimming treat, but as rare and wonderful as Christmas.